Rare desert wheatear in Scotland

This video from Morocco is called Moroccan Bird Tours: Desert Wheatear / Oenanthe deserti.

From Wildlife Extra:

Desert wheatear spotted in Scotland

A rare avian species to the UK is spotted beside RSPB nature reserve

December 2012. Staff at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg had an exciting visitor arrive on Sunday 2nd December. The desert wheatear, an old world flycatcher, is believed to have become lost travelling to the Sahara desert and found itself in Aberdeenshire.

The misguided bird will now have to survive chilly conditions and set off once the weather improves for a warmer climate.


“We’ve been excited to see a rarity here at Loch of Strathbeg – a desert wheatear spotted at Rattray,” said Diana Spencer, RSPB Visitor officer at Loch of Strathbeg.

“It should be in the Sahara by now so it’s probably a bit stunned by being on a beach in Aberdeenshire in freezing temperatures! It was first spotted by two of our volunteers who were unsure what it was – but they brought in photos, which we then posted on Twitter. Within less than a minute we had two people identify the bird as a desert wheatear which was excellent.”

The desert wheatear

The desert wheatear (Oenanthe deserti), thought to be a female, or less likely a juvenile, is the same size as a robin with distinctive all black upper tail feathers. Males are buff in colour with white underparts and females have a greyer colour with buffer appearance below.

The chances of survival for the bird are said to be fairly good, according to Ian Francis, RSPB area manager for the North East. “There’s every chance this lost bird will survive,” said Ian. “It needs to ideally get itself back to the Eastern Mediterranean but there’s no way of knowing how well this bird may fare unless it was ringed and spotted elsewhere.

“There are lots of theories on why some birds lose the correct course; some suggest weather or loss of navigational ability. In truth, we do not really know and just have to hope that this bird ends up where it should be – or at least in warmer climes than Aberdeenshire.”

RSPB Loch of Strathbeg is just off the A90 between Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Follow the ‘Nature Reserve’ signs from Crimond village.

Desert wheatear also in North Wales: here.

Lions disappear as savannahs shrink

This video is called Taking Action for African Lions: Behind the Schemes, Episode 11.

From Biodiversity and Conservation journal, December 2012:

The size of savannah Africa: a lion’s (Panthera leo) view


We define African savannahs as being those areas that receive between 300 and 1,500 mm of rain annually. This broad definition encompasses a variety of habitats. Thus defined, savannahs comprise 13.5 million km2 and encompass most of the present range of the African lion (Panthera leo).

Dense human populations and extensive conversion of land to human use preclude use by lions. Using high-resolution satellite imagery and human population density data we define lion areas, places that likely have resident lion populations.

In 1960, 11.9 million km2 of these savannahs had fewer than 25 people per km2. The comparable area shrank to 9.7 million km2 by 2000. Areas of savannah Africa with few people have shrunk considerably in the last 50 years and human population projections suggest they will likely shrink significantly in the next 40.

The current extent of free-ranging lion populations is 3.4 million km2 or about 25 % of savannah area. Habitats across this area are fragmented; all available data indicate that between 32,000 and 35,000 free-ranging lions live in 67 lion areas. Although these numbers are similar to previous estimates, they are geographically more comprehensive. There is abundant evidence of widespread declines and local extinctions.

Under the criteria we outline, ten lion areas qualify as lion strongholds: four in East Africa and six in Southern Africa.

Approximately 24,000 lions are in strongholds, with an additional 4,000 in potential ones. However, over 6,000 lions are in populations of doubtful long-term viability. Lion populations in West and Central Africa are acutely threatened with many recent, local extinctions even in nominally protected areas.

Good English whooper swan news

This video about Japan is called The Coolest Stuff on the Planet- The Whooper Swans of Hokkaido.

From Wildlife Extra:

Record numbers of Whooper swans at WWT Martin Mere

Nearly 2500 whooper swans counted at Martin Mere

December 2012. A count of whooper swans confirmed a record number of 2,480 birds at WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre.

Whooper swans spend the summer in Iceland and winter in the UK. Approximately 7% of the population of whooper swans visit Martin Mere over the winter offering spectacular displays that we call ‘Swan Spectacular’. Everyday, the swans are fed at 10.30am and 3pm from Swan Link hide and at 10.45am and 3.30pm from Raines Observatory. The 3.30pm feed also includes a warden’s talk to learn all about these amazing animals.

Probably more on the way

Centre Manager, Andy Wooldridge, said: “We usually get peak numbers of whooper swans in mid to late December so I still think numbers will continue to rise. The highest previous count was 2,100 in 2010 which also coincided with a cold snap. The recent cold weather has certainly encouraged birds which roost elsewhere to visit Martin Mere allowing us to offer a fantastic spectacle during the swan feeds.”

WWT Martin Mere is open every day from 9.30am to 5pm and parking is free of charge. Situated off the A59, it is signposted from the M61, M58 and M6. The Centre is also accessible via the Southport to Manchester and the Liverpool to Preston line by train from Burscough Rail Stations.

Kim Kardashian, torture, teargas in Bahrain

From the Washington Post in the USA:

Why people are so upset about Kim Kardashian’s odd visit to Bahrain

Posted by Max Fisher on December 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm

A Bahraini man walks off after having his picture taken with TV star Kim Kardashian in Riffa, Bahrain. (Hasan Jamali/Associated Press)

About a month before Kim Kardashian flew to the Middle Eastern island nation of Bahrain this weekend, 28 of the country’s medics and doctors were assembled before a courtroom. They had been charged after treating some of the protesters who have been rallying now for over a year, calling for democracy and for improved human rights. An ear, nose, and throat specialist named Nabeel Tammam, one of the defendants, raised his hand. The judge had just dismissed a defense attorney’s claim that his clients had been tortured, and Tammam had something to say. “My name is Nabeel Tammam,” he said when the judge acknowledged him, apparently mistaking him for a lawyer. “I am one of the medics, and I was tortured.” The judge closed the hearing.

That vision of Bahrain, relayed by Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino in a recent op-ed in The Post, is very different than the version Kardashian showed the world. Her trip to open and generate publicity for a Millions of Milkshakes chain, and her gushing tweets (“I’m in love with The Kingdom of Bahrain”), drew wide mockery and criticism for the celebrity’s lack of awareness of or ambivalence toward Bahrain’s crisis.

So how bad was the trip really? The case against it is straightforward. As Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch explains: Kardashian’s visit “generates positive publicity for a Bahraini regime which carried out an unspeakably brutal crackdown last year, continues a fierce campaign of repression and has been utterly unrepentant.” The monarchy has aggressively courted international approval and the appearance of normality, apparently as a means to downplay its crackdown, so Kardashian’s visit would seem to be a significant victory. She released this video of her visit, laden with dance beats and screaming fans. “Everyone from the States has to come and visit,” she urges:

Bahrain: Teachers face further jail time after ‘nightmare’ verdict: here.

Bahraini activists have not been as critical as have foreign Middle East-watchers and human rights advocates. Maryam Al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini activist sent into exile after her father was beaten and imprisoned, posted an open letter thanking Kardashian for her visit and encouraging her to meet with human rights leaders. “Given your fame, it is impossible for your trip to remain apolitical,” she wrote.

It turns out that Al-Khawaja was right. During Kardashian’s visit, about 50 protesters showed. They didn’t appear related to the political strife that has killed dozens of protesters and sent a number of activists to jail – the AP described them as “hardline Islamic,” and their only sign read “God is Great” – except that security forces, as has increasingly been their habit, dispersed them with teargas. What would have otherwise  been a minor sideshow became a reminder of the teargas and protests that have marked Bahrain, if under very different circumstances.

Americans, for whom Kardashian probably carries greater name recognition than the Bahraini nation, which is a close U.S. ally, couldn’t help but notice a quirky story about the scandal-prone reality TV star somehow involved in a Middle East teargassing. This ABC News report somewhat exacerbates the problem by treating the story as a silly celebrity gaffe rather than an issue of potentially abetting a regime that commits human rights abuses, but maybe the point here is that the words “Bahrain” and “teargas” made it into the news:

It would seem things have gotten so bad in Bahrain that even something as potentially regime-friendly as a big American celebrity’s high-profile visit and glowing praise can’t be covered without some mention, however passing, of the crisis. ABC News briefly flashes, without explanation, a tweet from Reza Aslan referencing the imprisonment and alleged torture of doctors who treat wounded protesters – doctors like Nabeel Tammam.

Maybe this incident suggests that Bahrain can only sweep its problems under the rug for so long. Lynch writes, “That protests and tear gas disrupted the international media coverage of [Kardashian's] visit as well is therefore in some ways a promising sign that the reality of Bahrain’s ongoing repression and failure to deal honestly with its recent past has not yet been washed away.”

Brian Dooley, a Human Rights First director who has spent much of the last two years focusing on Bahrain, told me he thought the country’s public relations efforts might be starting to backfire. “I’m not sure the Kardashian visit really was a net gain for Bahrain’s government,” he said. “Much of the coverage simply refocused attention on the human rights crisis they’re trying to deny.”

Perhaps bringing a glimmer of international attention to Bahrain’s crisis, however unintentionally, is the best that the country’s besieged Shia majority could hope for. Wafa Alsayed, a Bahraini political analyst, joked on Twitter, “No offense, but asking Kim Kardashian 2 comment on the political situation in Bahrain is like asking a chipmunk 2 prepare a 3 course dinner.” Maybe she didn’t need to comment on the situation, or even be aware of it, after all.

New butterfly species discovered on Jamaica

The newly discovered Jamaican butterfly, Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

After earlier posts here and here on this blog about the natural beauty and the threats to it of Cockpit Country in Jamaica, now from ScienceDaily:

New Jamaica Butterfly Species Emphasizes Need for Biodiversity Research

(Dec. 3, 2012) — University of Florida scientists have co-authored a study describing a new Lepidoptera species found in Jamaica’s last remaining wilderness.

Belonging to the family of skipper butterflies, the new genus and species is the first butterfly discovered in Jamaica since 1995. Scientists hope the native butterfly will encourage conservation of the country’s last wilderness where it was discovered: the Cockpit Country. The study appearing in today’s Tropical Lepidoptera Research, a bi-annual print journal, underscores the need for further biodiversity research and establishing a baseline of organisms as more tropical areas suffer habitat destruction.

“My co-authors on this paper, Vaughn Turland and Delano Lewis, are really excited because they think this butterfly has the potential to be a new sort of flagship species for Jamaican habitat conservation, because it’s a black and gold butterfly living in a green habitat, which together comprise the Jamaican national colors,” said study co-author Andy Warren, senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “Whether or not a tiny little butterfly is going to attract the type of conservation interest that the giant Homerus Swallowtail in Jamaica has remains to be seen.”

With a wingspan of little more than 1 centimeter, Troyus turneri is about the size of a thumbnail with its wings spread, Warren said. The genus was named Troyus for the town of Troy, which is nearest to the region of the Cockpit Country where it was collected, and the species was named for Thomas Turner, an expert on Jamaica butterflies who contributed to its discovery.

Jamaica is considered one of the most thoroughly researched areas for butterflies in the Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Until the discovery of T. turneri, researchers believed they knew all the butterflies in Jamaica, Warren said. The butterfly likely remained undiscovered for so long due to the inaccessible nature of the Cockpit Country, a 247-mile mostly undeveloped tangle of tropical vegetation. The species was described based on one male and one female specimen, collected in 2011 and 2012 within a quarter mile of each another.

“During 2011, after the discovery of the initial female specimen, we had actually written the description, but any time you have just a single specimen, the chance exists that it’s just a real freak of something else,” Warren said. “I was really keeping my fingers crossed that more specimens would be found this year. Well, we didn’t get many more, but we got exactly one more and it was the male, so that was a huge relief.”

The fact this new genus was discovered on an island thought to be well-known, 17 years after a new species had last been described, really shows the need for biodiversity studies, said Torben Larsen, a lepidopterist who specializes in skippers.

“There aren’t so many butterflies in the country [Jamaica] and for a new one to turn up, I think it was an absolutely remarkable catch,” said Larsen, who is affiliated with the African Butterfly Research Institute. “It really points to the need for continued and in-depth study of the fauna of butterflies, and in general, to get all of these things caught and put in a museum at least, because they do tend to be in rather special habitats.”

Unlike other Jamaica skipper butterflies that have wings marked with spots of white or orange, T. turneri is dark brown and unmarked, except for a pale yellow band on its hind wing. Researchers used morphological analysis, including comparisons of the insect’s genitalia, and DNA bar coding to determine it represented a new genus.

“We knew right away it was a new species because there’s just nothing else that looks like it, but it took several months to determine that it actually should go in its own new genus,” Warren said. “Of all the butterflies that are unique to Jamaica, this one is arguably the most unique — every other butterfly on the island has other congeneric species either on another island or on the mainland, but this one doesn’t have any close relatives anywhere.”

There are about 20,000 known butterfly species worldwide. Jamaica has 135, with 35 species endemic to the country, including T. turneri.

“One of the goals of biologists is to describe the Earth’s species richness before it’s all gone, and of course we never know what we’re going to find in any of these organisms, be it some unique chemical compound that could provide the cure for cancer or any other number of diseases,” Warren said. “We don’t want to lose anything that could be potentially beneficial for ourselves and for the planet.”